Spiritual Love

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Spiritual Love (1987) takes many of the horror-comedy elements of Mr. Vampire (1985) and fuses them with the romantic comedy genre. Like so many Hong Kong films, Spiritual Love is a virtual cornucopia of genres and tropes that have been correlated to optimize entertainment value. Although Spiritual Love is neither as moving or hilarious as it sets out to be it is consistently engaging. The allure of these types of films is their aesthetic diversity. Spiritual Love offers the viewer romance, slapstick, musical numbers, sword play, gun play, and horror all in equal measure.

In 1987, director Taylor Wong made a total of three pictures starring Chow Yun-fat, including Spiritual Love. The other two films Wong made with the matinee idol in 1987 were the heroic bloodshed films Tragic Hero and Rich & Famous. Wong’s co-director on Spiritual Love, David Lai Dai-wai, specialized in female centered dramas rather than genre films. Although it’s difficult to determine which aspects of Spiritual Love each director is responsible for it is safe to assume that their extremely different sensibilities are responsible for the general unevenness of the film.

In its historical context Spiritual Love is a relatively average outing that is, as so often is the case, bolstered by the abilities and charisma of its cast. Spiritual Love is fortunate to feature three of Hong Kong cinema’s most popular and charming actors. Chow Yun-fat, Cherie Chung, and Deanie Ip make Spiritual Love compulsory viewing. The chemistry between Chow Yun-fat and Cherie Chung is particularly electric and lends a sense of artistic progression to their work together years later in John Woo’s comedic Once A Thief (1991).

But while Chow Yun-fat and Cherie Chung carry the dramatic thrust of the film, it’s Deanie Ip’s scenes that really captivate. Ip plays Chow Yun-fat’s romantically idealistic cousin who works as an assistant to an exorcist played by Paul Chun. In many of her “ghost busting” scenes Ip sings and dances her way through battles with the dead. The traditionally infused music of Joseph Chan and Ip’s talents with choreography create a spellbinding mix of aesthetics wholly at odds with the other more masculinist genres operating in Spiritual Love.

Of course it should go without saying that much of Spiritual Love does not age well politically. One either has the stomach for these types of older films or one doesn’t, and either is perfectly fine. Spiritual Love, like any golden age of Hong Kong cinema film, isn’t for everyone. I’d recommend it to the adventurously curious and the steadfast completist.